About a Boy
"Charming oasis in the blockbuster desert"
Dir. Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz; writ. Nick Hornby (novel), Peter Hedges, Weitz & Weitz; feat. Hugh Grant, Nicholas Hoult, Toni Collette, Rachel Weisz (PG-13)
"They don't mean 'bad' in a good way"
Dir. Joel Schumacher; writ. Jason Richman and Michael Browning; feat. Anthony Hopkins, Chris Rock, Gabriel Macht, Garcelle Beauvais, Adoni Maropis (PG-13)
If you're still in your seat halfway through the movie, there will be some action scenes. Rock yells "Whoa! Whooo-aa! Ahhh!" a lot, and Hopkins tries not to over-exert himself. You yawn. In a climactic scene, a gorgeous European field of brilliant green grass is befouled by a car chase fit for a Saturday Night Live skit. At least it seems like the movie's climax, until the CIA chief tells us that the bad guys might keep moving their hostage 10 or 20 times before they're done. Oh no. Leave now. Better yet, keep your money and rent a movie where Chris Rock gets to be funny, or where Anthony Hopkins gets to act. — John DeFore
Dogtown and Z-Boys
"Documentary glides through skateboarding history"
Dir. Stacy Peralta; writ. Peralta and Craig Stecyk; feat. Sean Penn, Jay Adams, Tony Alva, Peralta, Nathan Pratt, Henry Rollins, Wentzle Ruml, Allen Sarlo (PG-13)
The birth of modern skateboarding, which is the subject of Dogtown and Z-Boys, is not quite as momentous as the birth of modern immunology or even free verse. When it is not a noisy nuisance and a hazard to more constructive occupations such as jogging, cycling, or even walking, skateboarding is a sport, a discipline, and an entree into a subculture of adolescent urban guerrillas. Combining vintage footage, current interviews, and narration by Sean Penn, Dogtown and Z-Boys examines the history, sociology, and aesthetics of surfing on cement. — Steven G. Kellman
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
Dir. Callie Khouri; writ. Rebecca Wells & Mark Andrus (from book by Wells); feat. Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, Ashley Judd, James Garner, Maggie Smith (PG-13)
Although I hate to hear critics pit new movies against the better ones of old, I couldn't help but compare this elderly-chick flick to rather recent ones such as The Joy Luck Club and even Steel Magnolias. All three have the same general plot of daughters learning to reconcile struggles with their mothers, and thereby healing their own inner wounds, with a little help from Mom and her cronies. In Divine Secrets, the sacred wisdom is doled out by a self-centered, flaky mother (played by the brilliant Ellen Burstyn ) and her gaggle of goofy friends. The aforementioned films span more generations and vignettes with stronger voices and better-defined characters. In this take, the women are a blur of silver-haired gossip mongers with similar styles of wit that center on alcohol and old age. And without spoiling the supposed climax, I will divulge this: The biggest secrets, slowly leaked throughout the movie, weren't really that juicy. — Xelena González
Dir. Michael Apted; writ. Tom Stoppard, Robert Harris (novel); feat. Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Jeremy Northam, Saffron Burrows (R)
"Overwrought female revenge fantasy"
Dir. Michael Apted; writ. Nicholas Kazan; feat. Jennifer Lopez, Bill Campbell, Tessa Allen, Juliette Lewis, Dan Futterman, Chris Maher, Noah Wyle, Fred Ward, Russell Milton (PG-13)
A vehicle to promote the career of Jennifer Lopez, Enough is a Sherman tank when a jeep would surely have sufficed. Sleeping with the Enemy, Double Jeopardy, and even Gaslight, among many others, have already traveled this territory — a woman's triumph over an abusive spouse. But Enough is overwrought enough to constitute audience abuse. This is an exploitation movie that manipulates legitimate concern over domestic violence in the service of violent, androphobic entertainment. — Steven G. Kellman
"Warms the heart"
Dir. Carlos Saldanha, Chris Wedge; writ. Michael J. Wilson (story), Michael Berg (screenplay); feat. Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Goran Visnjic, Jack Black (PG)
The Importance of Being Earnest
Dir. Oliver Parker; writ. Parker, based on the stage play by Oscar Wilde; feat. Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O'Connor, Reese Witherspoon, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Anna Massey (PG)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Dir. Peter Jackson; writ. J.R.R. Tolkien, Frances Walsh; feat. Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies (PG-13)
Murder by Numbers
"Less would have been more"
Dir. Barbet Schroeder; writ. Tony Gayton; feat. Sandra Bullock, Ben Chaplin, Ryan Gosling, Michael Pitt, Agnes Bruckner (R)
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
"Sweet Greek comedy, not Aristophanes"
Dir. Joel Zwick; writ. Nia Vardalos; feat. Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine, Lainie Kazan, Andrea Martin, Joey Fatone (PG)
"You better get married soon. You're starting to look old" are the first words that greet us and 30-year-old Toula as she helps her father, Gus (Constantine), open the family restaurant, Dancing Zorba's, at 5 a.m. Bespectacled and bedraggled, Toula is starting to look like a spinster drudge. Before long, though, Cinderella is transformed by Prince Charming — a handsome, winsome high school teacher who happens to wander into the Portokalos restaurant. Toula and the stranger become smitten with each other, and the only obstacle to their romance is the fact that Ian Miller (Corbett) is not Greek.
It comes as no surprise that, eventually, exogamy triumphs, though the bridegroom, who undergoes an Orthodox baptism, ends up becoming Greek in everything but name — Miller, which Gus insists is derived from the Hellenic root for "apple." Since Portokalos comes from the word for "orange," the union of Ian and Toula is a matter of apples and oranges, which makes a tasty macedoine. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is the story of how Toula both defied and confirmed her tribal expectations. — Steven G. Kellman
The New Guy
"Barely repackaged high school comedy"
Dir. Ed Decter; writ. David Kendall; feat. DJ Qualls, Lyle Lovett, Eddie Griffin, Eliza Dushku, Zooey Deschanel, Parry Shen, Laura Clifton (PG-13)
The Scorpion King
"An ideal drive-in picture"
Dir. Chuck Russell; writ. Jonathan Hales; feat. Dwayne Johnson, Steven Brand, Kelly Hu, Michael Clarke Duncan, Grant Heslov, Peter Facinelli, Ralph Moeller, Scott L. Schwartz (PG-13)
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
"Stupid, but fun in spite of itself"
Dir. George Lucas; writ. Lucas, Jonathan Hales; feat. Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee (PG)
Judging by all the evidence after 1973's warm, wonderful American Graffiti, George Lucas is like a not-too-bright kid who accidentally invented the hot fudge sundae. He introduced the world to his confection, Star Wars, and it made him a gazillionaire; then he handed it off to Julia Child (Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner), who made her own version with the freshest ingredients and ideal proportions. Since then, George has been trying to convince us that his sundae tastes great when covered with chile con carne, or when the whipped cream is replaced by sour cream, or with meatballs on it.
What I'm getting at is that Clones has meatballs on it that are easily discarded. It also has a corn dog stuck into the middle, but you can eat around that; the rest is still a hot fudge sundae. — John DeFore
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
"A horse is a horse"
Dir. Kelly Asbury, Lorna Cook; writ. John Fusco; feat. Matt Damon, James Cromwell, Daniel Studi, Chopper Bernet, Jeff LeBeau (G)
Spirit is rated G, but a word of parental guidance: The animated violence falls somewhere between afternoon cartoons and video games, while Spirit's prancing wooing has only the faintest whiff of anything sexual. Still, images that equate darkness of hide with slavish villainy and animals with Native Americans seem tinged with the worst of Disney's old-world-order iconography. — James Keith La Croix
The Sum of All Fears
"Gripping new spin on old series"
Dir. Phil Alden Robinson; writ. Tom Clancy (novel), Paul Attanasio, Daniel Pyne; feat. Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Liev Schreiber, Alan Bates, Philip Baker Hall (PG-13)
It's always a challenge for viewers to accept a replacement actor playing a character they already know. In Sum, the filmmakers handle Harrison Ford's departure from Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan series by re-imagining the character; instead of being at the top of his field as the 21st century begins, Ryan is a fresh-faced hotshot right out of school.
And the plot he faces here certainly has its moments, playing on some fears (terrorism, the possibility that unknown enemies may manipulate America's anger for their own means) that are more timely than the producers knew when they began production. — John DeFore
"Race relations made funky"
Dir. Malcolm D. Lee; writ. John Ridley (based on his Internet comic series) and Michael McCullers; feat. Eddie Griffin, Chris Kattan, Denise Richards, Dave Chappelle, Neil Patrick Harris, and Aunjanue Ellis (PG-13)
Hooked on the funk that his father raised him with, Undercover Brother (Griffin) fights against everything un-funky — especially the Man — with a Robin Hood attitude and Bruce Lee baditude. When his path crosses that of the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. (a secret organization also dedicated to fighting the Man), Undercover Brother joins up to stop world-wide whitening. — John Brewer
"Gross and engrossing WWII flick"
Dir. John Woo; writ. John Rice & Joe Batteer; feat. Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach, Peter Stormare, Noah Emmerich, Mark Ruffalo, Brian Van Holt, Roger Willie, Christian Slater, Frances O'Connor (R)
Windtalkers works through miscommunication. Its title suggests a script about the Navajos who used their peculiar tongue to ensure American victory in the Pacific. In fact, it focuses on only two "windtalkers" in what is otherwise a conventional, if unusually gory, war movie. Navajos Ben Yahzee (Beach) and Charles Whitehorse (Willie) are recruited by the Marines for combat duty as radio operators. In 1944, they participate in the bloody mission to wrest control of the island of Saipan from about 30,000 Japanese soldiers. Two Marine sergeants, Joe Enders (Cage) and Peter "Ox" Henderson (Slater), are assigned to keep the Navajos alive, or else to kill them if necessary to preserve the secrecy of the crucial code. Throughout ferocious, unrelenting combat, Yahzee and Charlie continue to transmit messages, though it is not clear why what they send — coordinates of the enemy's position — has to be in code. The Japanese already know their own location. — Steven G. Kellman